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Learn Proper Running Form

Good running form is essential for running because it will help you run faster, more efficiently, and comfortably. And perhaps most importantly, it will also help prevent injuries. So, what is the best running form, and how do you know if you’re maintaining proper form while running? Let’s take a closer look.

What is the best running form?

A woman running next to a white wall.

Running isn’t something we need someone to teach us to do. As humans, we instinctively know how to run, but one of the most common running mistakes is training with bad running form. 

The term “running form” refers to your running technique or how you run. It involves things like your running posture, foot strike, and other factors. All runners have their own unique running form, but following some general guidelines for developing the best running form can help you make the most of your runs by ensuring they are efficient, comfortable, and injury-free.

It takes time to learn proper running form and put it into practice. You may even need to experiment to find what works best for you. Overall, though, here’s what you should prioritize when it comes to running form:

Proper Running Form: Feet

Close up of female running sneakers while running.

Proper running form involves all parts of your body, especially your feet! If you’ve ever wondered, “How should your feet hit the ground when running?” we’ve got an answer for you!

There are three types of foot strikes (how your foot hits the ground when you run): heel strike, midfoot strike, and forefoot running. 

  • Heel striking is when your heel hits the ground first, followed by your midfoot and then your toes. Many runners run this way because it feels most natural. There are also some health benefits, as heel striking can strengthen your calf muscles and ankles. However, heel striking does have some downsides. It can cause shin splints due to the additional stress in your lower legs and can lead to pain or injury in the knees or hips.
  • Midfoot strike is when you land on the midsole of your foot first while running. Many runners say this footstrike lessens the impact of running on your joints. However, some also argue that it can increase the risk of injuring your feet, ankles, or Achilles tendon.1
  • Forefoot running is when you land on your toes while running. Runners who do this claim that it improves their forward momentum and lessens the pressure on their knees. However, others say forefoot running may cause stress injuries to the feet or lead to bouncing while running, which is not the most efficient way to run.2

In the past, research supported the hypothesis that midfoot striking or forefoot running was more economical and reduced your risk for injury. However, a 2021 review of several studies found little evidence that footstrike technique (including heel striking) has any link to injuries.3

So, should you run on your toes or heels? It depends. Generally, running on your toes can help you run faster without tiring as quickly, so it may be beneficial for sprinting. However, long-distance toe running isn’t recommended. Most marathon and distance runners tend to heel strike.

Regardless, as the recent research study above mentioned, your footstrike may not have as much of an impact on injuries as previously thought. So it’s really up to you whether you run on your toes or heels. Of course, there are still pros and cons to both, so you may need to consider those and experiment to find what works best for you and your body. Most importantly, if you think your running performance or injuries require that you change your footstrike, you should! Working with a physical therapist can also help you determine the proper footstrike.

Proper Running Form: Head and shoulders

A woman running with her iphone.

A common question runners ask about the best running form is, “Should you lean forward when running?” According to Medical News Today, leaning forward while running increases injury risk because it places more stress on the hips, knees, legs, and feet, which can cause overuse injuries.4

When you run, your posture should remain straight and erect. Instead of looking down at your feet, you should be looking straight ahead. Relax your shoulders and keep them level. Your back should be straight. When you get tired during your run, resist the urge to slump over. Maintaining a good running posture while running will help reduce muscle fatigue, soreness, and back pain.

Proper Running Form: Arms and hands

A man running on the bridge listening to music.

As for your arms and hands, you might wonder, “How should my arms be when running?” or “Is it better to run with hands open or closed?” When running, your arms should be at a 90-degree angle and hang naturally at your waist. They should almost brush your hips as you move them back and forth. If you find that you’re holding your hands up by your chest while you run, you’re more likely to experience tension in your arms, shoulders, and neck, which can affect your performance and comfort. 

Clenching your fists while running can also cause the same tension, so try to run with your hands relaxed and open, but not entirely. Instead, keep your hands slightly open, like you’re holding a small, fragile object that you want to stay safe.

How do I know if I have proper running form?

A couple racing in the park.

One of the easiest ways to check your running form is to take a slow-motion video of yourself running. Watch the video and carefully analyze each stride you take to determine what you’re doing right and where you can improve. 

Alternatively, you can take a still shot from the slow-mo video you recorded and draw a line through your hip joint parallel to the top of your pelvis. Then, draw a line down your stance leg, from your hip to your ankle. And finally, draw a line from your ankle joint to your toes. If your final diagram is shaped like a Z, your running form is great! If not, you may need to make some changes to improve it.

How do you fix poor running form?

Female running at the gym on a treadmill.

To fix poor running form, you can take a slow-mo video or screenshot, analyze it, and then take small steps to make changes. For instance, if you see that you’re holding your hands too high up near your chest while you run, make a conscious effort to hang them lower down by your waist the next time you run and try to make a habit of it. Or, if your running posture is slouchy, make an effort to push your chest up during your next run. Making small changes will help improve your running experience and performance.

The following strategies can also help you improve your running form:

  • Make sure your spine is tall and erect, and your head is facing forward while running.
  • Bend your elbows at 90-degree angles and keep your hands open and relaxed.
  • Focus on keeping your breathing steady.
  • Do core exercises to improve your stability and balance.
  • Wear appropriate running shoes and replace them when they get worn down.

As you adjust your running form, running on a treadmill may also help you focus on maintaining good running posture, footstrike, etc., because there are fewer external factors to compete with, such as inclement weather or unexpected bumps or disruptions in the route. With Vingo, you can explore exciting routes all over the globe while running on any treadmill in any space! 

Man running in the mountains.

If you’re experiencing pain that may be related to your running form, see a physical therapist or your doctor. They can help you make changes to correct your running form and alleviate the pain.

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References:

  1. KULMALA, J. P., AVELA, J., PASANEN, K., & PARKKARI, J. (2013). Forefoot Strikers Exhibit Lower Running-Induced Knee Loading than Rearfoot Strikers. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 45(12), 2306–2313. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e31829efcf7 
  2. Sun, X., Yang, Y., Wang, L., Zhang, X., & Fu, W. (2018). Do Strike Patterns or Shoe Conditions Have a Predominant Influence on Foot Loading? Journal of Human Kinetics, 64(1), 13–23. https://doi.org/10.1515/hukin-2017-0205 
  3. Burke, A., Dillon, S., O’Connor, S., Whyte, E. F., Gore, S., & Moran, K. A. (2021). Risk Factors for Injuries in Runners: A Systematic Review of Foot Strike Technique and Its Classification at Impact. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 9(9), 232596712110202. https://doi.org/10.1177/23259671211020283
  4. Berman, R. (2021, July 25). Reduce running overuse injuries by leaning forward less, says study. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/reduce-running-overuse-injuries-by-leaning-forward-less-says-study 

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